PASADENA — Five spots may separate the Crescenta Valley High boys’ water polo team from La Serna in the CIF Southern Section Division V rankings, but by the end of Wednesday’s nonleague match at Pasadena City College, there was only a difference of three goals between the seventh-ranked Falcons and the No. 2-ranked Lancers.

Omar Trad scored on a putback of a teammate’s miss with 48 seconds left and Antonio Camarillo added a quick goal on a counter-attack inside the final three seconds to make the final score closer, 11-8, after the Falcons had trailed by as many as five twice in the second half.

Crescenta Valley Coach Jan Sakonju, who got three goals apiece from Griffin Harting and Brian Dertli, thought his team made a step forward as it looked to get some work in against a division heavyweight before Thursday’s important Pacific League match against Pasadena.

“That’s a very powerful offensive team and our guys playing good team defense to take away those opportunities allowed us to keep our momentum going where normally we’ve fallen behind,” Sakonju said of his team’s play against La Serna. “That was very exciting to see.”

Crescenta Valley (9-13) not only kept it close early, but held a lead on two occasions in the first quarter. Using a strong team defense to notch six steals in the opening period, the Falcons kept La Serna off the scoreboard until the 3:18 mark of the first and took a 1-0 lead on Harting’s low shot around La Serna goalkeeper’s Ben Goncharenko’s left side at the 4:25 mark.

After Mitchel Embrey got the Lancers on the board with a hook shot over his defender and Falcons keeper Robert Menke (11saves), Harting answered again with a long skip shot from the perimeter with 2:17 to play in the first.

La Serna would tie things up again going into the second quarter on a nice backdoor cut and goal from Matthew Skinas on a pass from hole/set Kris Kohout and took its first lead, 3-2, on a Kohout goal with 3:10 left in the first half. Crescenta Valley tied it up one more time on a mid-range shot by Dertli, assisted by Trad, at the 1:32 mark.

“I think the aggressive play on offense and good shooting and good fundamentals helped us keep this game as close as it was,” Sakonju said.

La Serna claimed the edge going into halftime by scoring twice in the final minute, once on Skinas’ hard skip goal amid a six-on-five man-advantage and again with 17 seconds remaining when Skinas stole a rebound from the Falcons in front of their own goal and slammed it home.

Even though the Falcons trailed throughout the second half, they were able to push back every time La Serna made a move, answering Embrey’s goal to open the third with back-to-back goals on the perimeter from Harting and Dertli to stay within 6-5 at the 1:49 mark of the third.

“They’re a zone defense team and we wanted to spread out their zone a little bit,” Sakonju said of the Falcons’ strategy of moving the ball around the perimeter rather than going inside. “We were pretty wide, but part of that was by design.”

La Serna kept its lead at three going into the fourth, where it threatened to break the game open with back-to-back goals from Embrey and Kohout and another from Kohout on a man-advantage after Dertli interjected with a goal through a double-team at the 2:40 mark.